Broken Bells at First Avenue, 2/28/14

Categories: Last Night
Photo By Tony Nelson

Broken Bells
With Au Revoir Simone
First Avenue, Minneapolis
February 28, 2014

When Broken Bells initially came together, the group had the sound and the feel of a one-off side project for the Shins' James Mercer and über producer Brian Burton (Danger Mouse). With the arrival of their second full-length, After the Disco, the band took on more of a substantial air, and has surpassed the other releases they have tied their names to in recent years.

Broken Bells launched their U.S. tour for the new record at a sold-out First Avenue on Friday night, and Mercer and Burton (along with two backing musicians) delivered a mostly enthralling 90-minute, 18-song set that demonstrated just how textured and absorbing their music can be when it's delivered on such a grand scale.

The quartet, clad in all black, took to the smoke-filled stage in front of a half-moon screen filled with astral images, while surrounded by ornate, old-Hollywood director's lights. Those striking visuals ultimately helped make the show quite compelling. As with the Shins, Mercer isn't the most gregarious frontman (and Burton didn't say a word throughout), so the show would have to be propelled by the music rather than any memorable between song banter.

For a tour kick-off show, the well-paced performance went off without any major kinks, as the group launched the set with a towering version of "A Perfect World," with Mercer and Burton set up behind space-aged keyboards that gave them the look of a modern day Kraftwerk. Mercer picked up an electric guitar for a scorching solo as the song began to swell, before Burton switched to bass to lead funky renditions of "The Ghost Inside" and "After the Disco" that continued the intoxicating start, with Mercer passionately pouring himself into his vocals.

Photos By Tony Nelson

After thanking the crowd, Mercer then announced mischievously, "This is our first show on this tour. I don't know if that makes you lucky, or not. All right, on with the music." "The Waiting Game" found the band shifting towards a more moody, downtempo tone, with accompanying saturnine stage lighting and vast cosmic imagery. The tranquil pink lantern that adorns their self-titled debut album rose on the screen like a futuristic sun during a pulsating version of that record's closing track, "The Mall & Misery," which flowed smoothly into a somber, anguished take on "The Angel & the Fool," augmented by the towering, stylish shadows of James and Brian on the backdrop as the pair delivered the number side-by-side.

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